2015 was the year the Astros arrived ahead of schedule. After failing to surpass 70 wins in four straight years the team expected moderate improvements but the 86 win playoff season took many by surprise. Jose Altuve became a star, Dallas Keuchel won the Cy Young, Carlos Correa won rookie of the year, and the Astros look positioned for a long term run of success.
So what does that make 2016? It has been a year of disappointment as the team is off to a 15-24 start, which is good for last place in the AL West. As a young, up and coming franchise the Astros were a trendy World Series pick before the season but have seen both their offense and pitching take steps back this year.
Offensively the team have seen their runs per game decrease from 4.48 in 2015 (7th in MLB) to 4.26 in 2016 (16th in MLB). The Astros last year relied heavily on the long ball, leading all of baseball with 1.43 hit per game. This season they rank eighth, with just 1.23 dingers per game. The 2016 Astros lead baseball in both stolen bases and the number of times caught stealing. While they ran just as aggressively last year they aren't generating the same amount of offense to sustain the pace this season.
Although they are scoring less runs per game than last year the real problem for the Astros has been the pitching. After posting a team ERA of 3.59 in 2015 (6th in MLB), that number has ballooned to 4.67 in 2016 (25th in MLB). Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel has doubled his walk rate, which has led to a 2-5 record and 5.58 ERA. Colin McGugh has given up the most hits in the league, which has led to his own 5.58 ERA. The big offseason trade of Vince Velasquez for Ken Giles has worked out terribly, as Velasquez has a 2.70 ERA for the Phillies while Giles lost the closer job and has a 7.20 ERA.
All of this leaves the Astros nine games under .500 and seven out of first place. While Houston has gone a respectable 10-10 at home, they are a miserable 5-14 on the road. Keuchel was due for regression after seemingly coming out of nowhere last season but nobody expected him to be this bad. There are no great teams in the AL West, or all of the AL for that matter, so the Astros have time to turn it around. It all starts with Keuchel pitching tonight against the White Sox.